U.N. Pulls Staff from Sudanese City

12 June, 2011 (International Herald Tribune)

The United Nations has begun pulling its nonessential staff from the restive Sudanese state of Southern Kordofan, even as it sends more peacekeepers there to try to protect civilians, officials said Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, met with his southern counterpart, Salva Kiir, in Ethiopia, alongside Ethiopia’s president and Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, to begin talks aimed at resolving the border dispute.

Heavy fighting erupted in Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, a week ago, one of two border areas where the northern Sudanese government has deployed troops in recent weeks ahead of a planned split of north and south into separate countries next month.

Humanitarian officials said Sunday that the situation in Kadugli was deteriorating.

“The troop capacity is stretched to the limit,” said Hua Jiang, a spokeswoman for the United Nations in Sudan. “The troops that we have there are not enough to secure the whole area.”

She said a contingent of Bangladeshi peacekeepers had been brought to the region from elsewhere in the country.

The United Nations compound in Kadugli itself seemed to be at risk.

A United Nations humanitarian official said that the compound had five days of food rations left, and a security report issued Saturday said the peacekeeping force “can no longer guarantee the safety of some of its national staff.”

The report said that up to 60 staff members were stranded in central Kadugli, and the local government has not allowed the United Nations to take them to its compound on the city’s outskirts.

Thousands of city residents have crowded a displaced persons camp adjacent to the compound, where the United Nations has erected a loosely guarded “protection perimeter” intended to hold up to 1,500 people. At least 6,000 were believed to be there on Sunday, and the protection was reported to be spotty.

United Nations officials said they could not rule out reports that people had been abducted from the camp.

A report by the United Nations humanitarian agency, dated Friday, reported security officers in Kadugli “witnessing two trucks of blindfolded men being transported to unknown destination.” It was not clear who the men were, where they were being taken or by whom.

At the same time, the United Nations has been trying to evacuate its own personnel.

On Saturday, a convoy of vehicles carrying non-essential international staff was forced to turn around, United Nations officials said, when northern Sudanese soldiers stopped the vehicles and the Egyptian peacekeepers assigned to protect them abandoned the convoy.

“Internationals were to evacuate in a road convoy, but had to turn around because Egyptian peacekeepers disappeared,” a United Nations official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said it was “difficult” to get Egyptian peacekeepers to provide the protection they are supposed to.

A convoy with 30 international staff members is scheduled to try again to leave Kadugli on Monday.

Evacuating local staff has faced other obstacles. The northern Sudanese government had prohibited all Sudanese nationals working with the United Nations from leaving.

“Many national staff begged international staff to take them,” the United Nations official said. “Following this, many simply left, walking without protection.”

On Saturday, the United Nations moved about 80 percent of its Sudanese staff out of Kadugli clandestinely, using commercial vehicles, according to a security report.

There are approximately 380 United Nations staff members in Kadugli, a public information officer said.

Over the last several days, fighting in Southern Kordofan — a northern Sudanese state with a large and militarized population aligned with southern Sudan — has spread to more than half of the state, with round-the-clock gunfire and increasing aerial bombardments by the northern Sudanese army.

Since the fighting began on June 5, humanitarian officials estimate at least 40,000 people have fled Kadugli, a city surrounded by the Nuba Mountains, where thousands of ethnically African locals, aligned toward southern Sudan, remain armed.

The Nubans fought alongside the ethnically African southern Sudanese during their decades-long civil war with the predominantly Arab north. But while southern Sudan is scheduled to declare independence on July 9, in accord with a 2005 American-brokered peace agreement, Southern Kordofan and neighboring Blue Nile state will remain part of the north.

The northern Sudanese army invaded the contested border region of Abyei last month, forcing nearly 100,000 southern Sudanese to flee. Then they told the southern government they would do the same in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

Last week, a senior southern-aligned politician in the Nuba Mountains accused Egyptian peacekeepers of being complicit in northern Sudanese attacks on civilians, including rape.

“We take very seriously any allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers as the United Nations has a zero tolerance policy against sexual abuses,” Ms. Jiang said. “We call on all those who have information on any peacekeeper misconduct to present them to the mission, which will immediately launch an investigation.”



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